Insight – item on housing policies unbalanced – biased – economical with facts
Principle 4 – variety of views considered – no uphold
Principle 6 – no evidence of inaccuracies – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Government housing policy was the topic of an Insight programme broadcast on National Radio on 15 October 2000 beginning at about 8.05am. The programme looked at the impact of Government policy on low-income consumers.
Harry Lawson complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced and "economical with the facts". He noted that no professionals from the housing industry were included to counter "the half truths and emotional claptrap" that was uttered on the programme.
In its response, RNZ noted that the programme was intended to explore the impact of new housing policy on low-income tenants, because they would be the most affected by the change, and that the views of those working in this area were essential. It noted that those interviewed had canvassed both positive and negative aspects of the new policies, and that their views were non-political.
Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Lawson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An Insight programme broadcast on National Radio on 15 October 2000 beginning around 8.05am examined government housing policy from the point of view of low-income tenants, being those who would be most affected by proposed changes. Contributors included people who worked in the field of low-income housing, an economist, the Housing Minister and the Opposition spokesperson on housing.
Harry Lawson complained to RNZ that the programme was biased, unbalanced, economical with the facts, and "driven by emotions and ideology". He noted that at least two tenants’ advocates had been interviewed, as well as some tenants, but that there had been no spokesperson representing professionals in the housing industry.
RNZ responded that the views of tenants and those who worked in the field of low-income housing were essential to the programme. It argued that they had canvassed positive and negative aspects of the new policies and had been non-political. A "reputable economist" in the housing field had explained some of the wider implications for the rental market, the broadcaster continued, and comments made by the Housing Minister had been balanced by the National Party spokesperson.
RNZ suggested that as the programme was looking ahead, it had to be speculative, but said that it had achieved what it set out to do, which was to canvass the effect of new government housing policy on low-income consumers.
After Mr Lawson asked the Authority to investigate his complaint, a further comment was sought from RNZ. In a more substantive response, RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 4 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those principles read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
4a Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.
4b Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:
- An appropriate introduction to the programme; and
- Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.
In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
6a Broadcasters will not use deceptive programme practices.
6b In the event of an allegation of inaccuracy, broadcasters will act promptly to check the allegation against the original broadcast, and will broadcast with similar prominence a suitable and appropriately scheduled correction if that is found to be justified.
6c Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, shall be clearly distinguished.
6d Broadcasters shall ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.
In responding to the complaint, RNZ expressed doubt that the programme’s subject matter – the exploration of new housing policies to take effect in December 2000 – could be considered a controversial issue of public importance as contemplated by Principle 4. However, it continued, even if it were an issue of controversy, several points of view had been canvassed in the programme, including that of the Opposition spokesperson on housing. In any event, it argued, the programme was but one part of several broadcasts in "the period of current interest". It said it was also of the view that its listeners, as well as hearing other views on National Radio, could be reasonably expected to have had access to other points of view through other media in that same period. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
Turning to the complaint under Principle 6, RNZ argued that without reference to specific statements in the programme, it was difficult to make a finding that there had been a breach of the principle. It said that having reviewed the programme it had found no inaccuracies and noted that the complainant had not identified any either. It declined to uphold this aspect.
Mr Lawson reiterated in his final comment that the programme was unbalanced and driven by emotion because it was too narrowly focused on the benefits some tenants would receive. He gave examples of others who could have provided a contrary view. As the programme dealt mostly with the advantages of the housing policy, Mr Lawson contended that it lacked balance. He did not agree that a one minute clip of an interview with an economist satisfied the obligation to present an opposing view.
The item dealt with the implications of the government’s new housing policy. In the Authority’s view, this is an issue of controversy to which Principle 4 applies. A range of views was heard, including those of tenant advocates, low-income tenants and officials involved with the implementation of the proposed changes. In the Authority’s view, the perspective which Mr Lawson contended was lacking – that of the private landlord – was not relevant to a discussion of how the proposed changes would impact on low-income state housing tenants. It considers the item adequately dealt with a variety of perspectives on the changes, thus satisfying the requirements of Principle 4.
With respect to the complaint that the item breached Principle 6 because it was not truthful or accurate, the Authority notes that no facts were identified by the complainant as being incorrect. With no evidence of any inaccuracies, the Authority therefore declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 December 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: